Monday, 26 April 2010

April Reading

On Katherine’s bedside table this month…

Young Samurai: Way of the Sword - Chris Bradford
Glitter rating: 5
This is the second book in the Young Samurai series, which began with “Way of the Warrior”. When his father is murdered by the evil ninja Dragon Eye, Jack is rescued and taken to train as a samurai warrior at the School of Two Heavens in 17th Century Japan. His most treasured possession is his father’s “rutter”, a book of secret knowledge Dragon Eye and his ninja will stop at nothing to possess, even if it means killing Jack and his young Japanese friend Akiko. Meanwhile, Jack is preparing for the ancient trial of the Circle of Three, which will test his skills to the limit and end in a duel to the death. Can he – the only western boy at the school – possibly learn the Way of the Sword in time?
The fight scenes in this book are very realistic (maybe because its author is a keen martial arts expert!) and the action grips from page one. But what the Muse really liked about this story is the way you become instantly and totally immersed in Jack’s world as he learns not only how to handle his samurai sword, but also the spiritual side of being a warrior. Other fascinating details include a Japanese tea ceremony and origami paper folding (a secret hobby of Katherine’s). A third book in the series due out soon, and meanwhile you can join the dojo at www.youngsamurai.com.

Saint of Dragons - Jason Hightman
Glitter rating: 3
Simon St George is a lonely orphan at the Lighthouse School for Boys, until one day a mysterious man dressed all in white comes looking for him claiming to be his father. But Simon’s real father is Aldric St George, last of the true knights, who is hunting the man in white, a "dragonman" evolved from the ancient dragons of legend. When Simon joins his father on his quest, it is the start of an exciting dragon hunt that will take him and rescued maiden Alaythia across the world in pursuit of the remaining dragons, who have formed an alliance to destroy all human life on earth.
The dragons are the real stars of this book, from the obsessive White Dragon of New York to the water-dwelling Serpent of Venice, the Red Dragon of Russia, the sly Black Chinese Dragon, and their terrible Serpent Queen... all must be destroyed before the world will be safe. This action-packed read has a comic style that should appeal to those who like Terry Pratchett. There’s also a brave horse called Valsephany and a rather surprising fox, though NO UNICORNS! (just as well, since the Muse wouldn’t like to see them hunted by the St Georges).

Dark Life - Kat Falls
Glitter rating: 4
The Bookette sent a proof copy of this book through the enchanted mists, so I feel like a very lucky unicorn to read it before it is published. It is an action packed science fiction story set on a future version of our earth where the sea level has risen and drowned cities like New York, leaving only small areas of land where topsiders live crammed into high-rise buildings. Others – brave pioneers – have gone underwater and made their homes at the bottom of the ocean, where they farm the sea life and stake out hundred-acre “claims”, rather like the old pioneers of the American Wild West. There are also outlaws raiding the farms and settlements... teenage narrator Ty, whose skin shines mysteriously, and topside girl Gemma must battle the infamous Seablite Gang as well as various underwater monsters on their quest to find Gemma’s missing brother.
The Muse found this book very atmospheric with plenty of interesting details along the way, such as the “liquigen” people must suck into their lungs to survive at great depths, their underwater houses that look like giant jellyfish and are filled with trapped air, and some very cool submarines. Reading this story, it feels as if you are actually swimming with the dolphins and fish through sheets of silver bubbles. Ty and Gemma didn’t see me, of course (unicorns don't like getting water in their ears) but there are plenty of other interesting creatures in the depths of their drowned world, also the humans who live under the sea have developed mysterious Dark Gifts… dare you swim down to join them? If you're tempted, the book should be in the shops next month.

The British Fantasy Society Yearbook
Glitter Rating: X
Ha, thought it would be the Tibetan Art of Serenity again, didn’t you? Katherine has obviously decided she’s serene enough for the time being, so she’s started reading this collection of short stories by members of the British Fantasy Society. So far, the Muse has enjoyed Mark Morris’ story “The Name Game” about a family who moves into a new house, only to find that everyone who lives there has the name of a famous person, and if they want to stay their family must also include someone named after a famous person. Katherine says she enjoyed Steven Volk’s “After the Ape”, a love story written from the point of view of the Hollywood actress snatched by King Kong after the giant ape’s death in New York. These are adult genre stories which might be of interest to older readers, but you won't find this collection in the shops. To get your hands on it you need to join the British Fantasy Society .

Why not tell the Muse what you've been reading this month?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Song Quest cover contest

Calling all artists! If you enjoy creating artwork, either by hand or on a computer, then trot over to the Bookette’s blog where you’ll find a fabulous competition to design a new cover for Katherine’s debut novel Song Quest. The competition is part of a campaign to bring this book back into print for a new generation of readers. Prizes include a signed hardcover edition of the second Echorium book Crystal Mask plus other surprise goodies.

To give you an idea, so far Song Quest has had these two editions in the UK:

Element
Chicken House
and this one in America


It has also been translated into Chinese, Japanese and Italian. The Italian cover looks like the Chicken House one with a swirly silver title. The Japanese cover is dark blue and moody. The Chinese covers (two editions - complex and simple characters) are colourful stylised versions of the Chicken House one and also have black and white interior artwork.

When designing a book cover, it helps to know what the story is about. This one is a fantasy quest to save the half-human half-fish merlee from ruthless hunters (which is why you can see mermaids on some of the covers, though merlee can be male too). The heroine Rialle has blue hair and is training to be a Singer at a remote island school called the Echorium in a world where songs control the wind and the waves. A villain called the Khizpriest is behind the merlee hunting and wields a staff of dark crystal. Fortunately, the Singers have five songs of power they can use to defeat him...

For healing sleep of lavender dreams,
For laughter golden and gay,
For tears shed in turquoise streams,
For fear, blood and scarlet screams,
For death of deepest midnight shade.
For these the Songs, five in one -
Challa, Kashe, Shi, Aushan, Yehn
.

To use these songs most effectively, five Singers must stand on the points of a pentangle or five-pointed star, while the person having song therapy sits on a spinning stool in the centre. But Singers can also influence people by humming them under their breath while speaking – the songs themselves are wordless chants, rather like those you might have heard monks chanting in our own world.

Inspired yet? Then get designing, because this competition closes on 8th May!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Awake! For morning in the bowl of light has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight…

So begins the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a famous poem the Muse finds interesting because its author was a mathematician, just like Katherine. Omar Khayyam was a bit cleverer than my author, though. He lived in twelfth century Persia and was a famous astronomer who accurately calculated the length of a year, before he gave it all up to become a poet. You humans would probably call this a midlife crisis, but the Muse thinks Omar was doing just fine because his Rubaiyat (which means Testament) celebrates the joy of living in the moment.

How time slips beneath our feet:
Unborn Tomorrow and dead Yesterday…
Why fret about them if Today be sweet?


When the Rubaiyat was published in Persia, however, nobody wanted to buy a copy. The bookseller tried to shift copies by putting them outside his shop at a bargain price – like the 10p books you sometimes see in boxes outside secondhand bookshops today. Still nobody wanted to buy it! Then an Englishman, passing by, picked up a copy and liked what he read. He took it home and showed it to an editor friend called Edward Fitzgerald, who translated it into English and published it in 1859 to great acclaim. Since then there have been several other translations, and today you can find the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in many beautifully illustrated editions all over the world.

This proves that:
1. Mathematicians can write poetry.
2. Just because a book does not sell when it is first published does not mean it will never be a bestseller.
3. Poets are rarely famous in their own town.
4. Knowing an editor helps.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The British Fantasy Society

Katherine has just rejoined the British Fantasy Society, which the Muse thinks is about time. (How can she possibly have a unicorn for a muse and not call herself a fantasy author?) This is the cover of a special hardcover book of short stories available only to members, which is the first of the goodies they have sent her... looks like tasty unicorn food, so I'm looking forward to reading it.

Katherine began by writing short stories herself. Many years ago when I was still a foal, she made several good friends this way, most of whom are now professional fantasy or horror authors writing for the adult genre – though that doesn’t stop you going over to the genre shelves and having a snoop around for their books. Look out for horror authors Tim Lebbon and Steve Lockley, fantasy authors Sarah Ash, Gary Kilworth and Juliet McKenna, and SF author Neil Asher. Many fantasy books appeal to a wide age range, and those on the adult shelf are not all full of sex, drugs and rock and roll (though some are, of course!)

Some famous examples of books that cross the age barrier:
"Lord of the Rings" by JRR Tolkien – originally published as a trilogy for adults, later filmed and republished in seven shorter volumes for ages 8+.
"His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman – originally published for teenagers, but adopted and read by adult fantasy fans.
"Harry Potter" books by JK Rowling – originally published for 8+ but later simultaneously published as adult books with different covers.

These books find their wide readership in different ways. "Lord of the Rings" is essentially an adult fantasy that can be enjoyed for its magic and adventure by younger fans, Philip Pullman’s books are crossover fiction that appeal to both adults and teenagers, and Harry Potter is children’s fiction that appeals to adults seeking something fun to read.

Have you come across any other books popular with all ages? Let the Muse know, because chances are they’ll appeal to unicorns too…

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Poetry Post - Armageddon

Thanks to Safiyah for sending in two of her own poems and suggesting the idea of a poetry post. The Muse loves poems! Sticking with the space theme, here is one of Katherine's efforts...

"Armageddon"

Everyone agrees it must have been a major disaster -
Perhaps something atomic, no-one remembers now.
It does not matter.
We are scattered across the Universe
shrunken, crippled.
No longer men.

Once we built cities large as planets,
White marble shining in the sun.
We reached across galaxies and touched the stars,
Made belts of supernovae and pleated space so we could thread
Silver-bright ships through relays of black holes.

We cut larger and stitched faster
And covered the face of God
with fragments of ourselves.

Small wonder he sneezed.

© Katherine Roberts

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

“Swindon, we have a problem…”

When digging about for best-selling ideas, we muses have a habit of seeing slightly weird things… like the launch of the UK Space Agency, which replaced the British National Space Centre in Swindon on 1st April. Apparently there will be at least three UK space missions between now and 2030, which sounds very exciting if you’re into space tourism and exploration. Although there probably won’t be any actual launches from Swindon itself, British astronauts are go!

All right, I know what you’re thinking. April fool, maybe? Already the location of the UK Space Agency has prompted journalists to change the famous line from Apollo 13 “Houston, we have a problem…” (the unlucky NASA astronauts’ first communication after their spacecraft was damaged by an explosion in their oxygen tank, wrecking their mission to the moon) into the rather less glamorous title of this post. But the Muse thinks it is real - or are unicorns just gullible?! Anyway, real or not, it doesn’t matter since Katherine is a SF/fantasy author and has already decided the heroine of her new book should live in Swindon and go to a school in space. She watched the film of Apollo 13 only a few days ago, so this latest news is another neat part of the jigsaw. Muses do love it when that happens.

Of course we DO still have a little problem, which is lack of a publisher to launch Katherine’s new books into the world. King Arthur’s daughter is still out there fluttering her eyelashes at them so will hopefully find one soon who will then get first look at this. But my author needs to work on something in the meantime or she'll get bored and might scratch me again with her tiger claws. So what do you brave explorers of the enchanted mists who read this blog think? Would you like to read a space-fantasy series? Let the Muse know!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Year of the Tiger

According to the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Tiger. I first became interested in the Chinese animal years while helping Katherine write her (as yet unpublished) YA romance "Red Moon Rising", which tells of a turbulent love triangle between the young Genghis Khan, his blood brother Jamukha, and his sweetheart Borte. That story happened in twelfth century Mongolia, but the Year of the Tiger is traditionally a year of dramatic change prone to unusual weather conditions, communication problems and international crises. Already there’s been weird weather, annoying things happening with my author’s broadband connection, and in the UK it’s an election year. This year may bring great success to daring tigers but possible disaster to others – so if you’re not a tiger, the Muse advises you to find a safe place and stay there until next spring, when the Chinese year changes into the much gentler Rabbit.

Fortunately, a Tiger year only comes around once in every twelve, the other eleven being Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, and Ox... and at this point I expect you’re wondering why I’m blogging about a zodiac that includes a dragon but ignores unicorns? Time for another of my author’s little secrets. Yes, you’ve guessed it - Katherine was born in a Tiger year. So you might THINK she’s a big pussycat with interesting orange stripes in her hair, and it’s true she spends a lot of her time dozing in the sun with a book in her paws or playing with the plastic mouse attached to her computer. But if you poke her, make sure you’ve got your running shoes on because tigers are dangerous if you irritate them. I can show you the scratches.

Which animal are you? Use the chart below to check your birth year. (Note the Chinese new year starts on the date shown for that year, so if you were born in January or February you might be the previous animal… sorry it’s a bit complicated, but I didn’t make the rules.)

TIGER: 1962(5 Feb), 1974(23 Jan), 1986(9 Feb), 1998(28 Jan)
RABBIT: 1963(25 Jan), 1975(11 Feb), 1987(29 Jan), 1999(6 Feb)
DRAGON: 1964(13 Feb), 1976(31 Jan), 1988(17 Feb), 2000(5 Feb)
SNAKE: 1965(2 Feb), 1977(18 Feb), 1989(6 Feb), 2001(24 Jan)
HORSE: 1966(21 Jan), 1978(7 Feb), 1990(27 Jan), 2002(12 Feb)
SHEEP: 1967(9 Feb), 1979(28 Jan), 1991(15 Feb), 2003(1 Feb)
MONKEY: 1968(30 Jan), 1980(16 Feb), 1992(4 Feb), 2004(22 Jan)
ROOSTER: 1969(17 Feb), 1981(5 Feb), 1993(23 Jan), 2005(8 Feb)
DOG: 1970(6 Feb), 1982(25 Jan), 1994(10 Feb), 2006(29 Jan)
PIG: 1971(27 Jan), 1983(13 Feb), 1995(31 Jan), 2007(18 Feb)
RAT: 1972(16 Jan), 1984(2 Feb), 1996(19 Feb)
OX: 1973(3 Feb), 1985(20 Feb), 1997(8 Feb)

If you’re older than my author, then you’re obviously quite clever enough to work your animal out for yourself. If you were born after 2007 and you’re reading this blog, let the Muse know and I’ll send you a stuffed animal to play with instead.

So what I have been up to while my author tortures her computer mouse with her velvety tiger-paws? Well, I trotted over to Technorati and claimed my blog. The secret code is JPZCC39MD9WH. Don’t ask me what this means, but apparently without it they won’t believe a unicorn writes this blog. What do you mean, YOU don’t believe a unicorn writes this blog? The cheek of some humans! Better watch it, or I’ll be round your house with my horn right after I’ve finished talking to certain authors about that fantasy survey…

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